Wife joins search flight to look for boaters missing at sea off Florida

Natasha Walker boards plane in Titusville

TITUSVILLE, Fla. – A day after volunteers found a clue in the search for two boaters missing off Florida, the wife of one of the men will look for them while flying over the Atlantic.

Brian McCluney and Justin Walker, both of whom are firefighters, were last seen Friday while leaving Port Canaveral on a fishing trip in a 24-foot boat.

Walker's wife, Natasha Walker, boarded a plane Tuesday morning in Titusville to look for her husband and his friend.

"I need to be up there and feel like I'm searching, too," Walker said. "He's going to pull through this and he knows that I'm a fighter, so I'm going to not stop until I find him."

The plane will be piloted by Joe Hurston, of Air Mobile Ministries, which has been delivering supplies to people in need for about 40 years.

"Sometimes we're successful. Sometimes we're not. Today, we believe we're going to be successful," Hurston said. "We're just going to fly until we find those guys."

Crews gave an update on the search around noon Tuesday.

After days of searching the ocean, a volunteer on Monday found McCluney's fishing gear about 50 miles off the coast of St. Augustine.

"We're going to ramp up our search in the area that bag was found," a Jacksonville fire official said. "We're gonna' find them, and so absolutely it's a rescue mission."

More than 46,000 square miles, from off the coast of Central Florida to the Carolinas, have been covered in the search, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

"I know we're on the right path (and) that's good.  I just don't know how far up the path I need to be," Natasha Walker said.

Brian McCluney is a firefighter and paramedic with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, and Walker is a firefighter from Virginia.

'Miracles happen'

Stephanie McCluney said Monday, "Miracles happen on Day 3! This is Day 3." Hours later, she announced that her husband's tackle bag had been found.

The Coast Guard is leading the search, but several firefighters have donated their time and boats to look for the missing men. Other boaters and fishermen are also searching.

Prayer warriors, I have confirmed this is Brian’s tackle bag. It was found off the coast of st Augustine, 50 miles out....

Posted by Stephanie Young McCluney on Monday, August 19, 2019

"Someone needs help, so we are trying to go out there and see what we can do," volunteer Joe Larsen said. "If I am broke down or capsized, I want everybody to come look for me. That’s why I am doing it."

Although the boaters launched Friday morning from Port Canaveral, the current could have pushed them north into the waters off Jacksonville's shores, so firefighters and others are combing the beaches of North Florida and spent much of Sunday in private boats off the coast of Northeast Florida.

"If they're in the Gulf Stream, their drift becomes faster and so that extends out the amount of locations to where they could be," said Capt. Jim Suber. 

Suber said with bad weather, there's a chance the boat could have been capsized.

"That white bottom of a boat is the best thing to stay with the boat hopefully that gives a better idea," he said. "If they got separated from their boat, they hopefully had life jackets on or coolers and stuff."

McCluney's brother, Kevin, said this boating outing had sentimental value.

"My father passed away a month ago, leaving behind the boat. My brother wanted to take it out one last final quick fishing trip," Kevin McCluney said. 

Prayer walks

Stephanie McCluney was joined by friends and supporters in a prayer walk in Central Florida on Sunday as they looked for anything on the beach that would indicate a boater needing help or something they may have tossed overboard for attention.

“I am in Central Florida at Jetty Park in Coach Beach and we are all walking at 4 p.m. I know my church family is (also) walking (along) Mickler's (Landing) at 4 p.m. We are working on getting groups at every beach up the coast," she said. "We would love to have walkers in Daytona, St. Augustine, Jacksonville Beach, Fernandina Beach, and any other local beach they are at.”

Interim Director Fire Chief Keith Powers said firefighters in Jacksonville will continue the search until their fellow firefighters are found.

"Firefighters have a unique bond. It’s a 24 on 48 off schedule. We live together for a third of our life in those fire stations. We eat together, we laugh together (and) when something bad is going on, we cry together. When word got out the entire department we had numerous departments they’re all offering service, it’s a unique bond and it’s shared throughout the country," Powers said.

Wyse said if anyone can get through this and make it out OK, it's McCluney.

"That's what we do. When firefighters are in a bad situation, they figure a way out of that. So, with Brian's experience in the fire service and military experience, (he's a) very decorated veteran, if anyone can get out of this, he can. He's always worked at some of the busiest places. Those are the kind of people always wanting to be in the action and go and do. So, he is a really fine individual, just a good family man. And we are praying for him," Wyse said.

McCluney is a Navy veteran who has been married to his high school sweetheart for 15 years. They have two children, ages 6 and 8.

"He’s a decorated combat veteran, deployed to Iraq twice, participated in the battle of Fallujah, Navy corpsman. Excellent survival training. They’re both firefighters. They’re the most capable people I can imagine. Given the circumstances, they have everything going for them," Kevin McCluney said. 

Anyone with information about the boaters or who can help in the search is asked to call the Coast Guard at 904-714-7565.


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